I couldn’t think of a better title but this seems to hit the mark for January. I wasn’t sure what to write a blog on but I thought about some recent conversations I’ve been having with clients and prospects about their challenges and then I thought… well if they’re struggling with this, then I’m sure about another 1000 agencies are struggling with it too! So, I’m going to talk about a few challenges I’ve helped fix recently and maybe one or two will resonate and there’s some advice you can take away with you:
1. I’m a small-ish agency who wants to win bigger, £100k accounts
When you want to win larger accounts than you currently are, then you must change the way you behave. Easier said than done. ‘Can a leopard change its spots?’
A business growing is like a person ageing - day by day you can’t see the changes, which is why it’s so hard for agencies to change overnight. But at some points of a business’s growth, you need to dramatically change - think of it like when you’re on an airplane and as you rise the pressure on your ears gets too painful, so you gulp and they clear. Right now, you need to gulp!
In practical terms, what you need to do is start talking and targeting more senior people within an organisation and to do that you need to be having more strategic conversations. The logic is simple. The further up the food chain you are, the more budget control that person has. These are CEOs, CMOs, Marketing Directors - not mid-level management. They could also be larger businesses/brands than you’re used to working with. These people are interested in protecting their business against external threats and seizing the opportunities of market and audience trends. They would rather read about intel on their target demographic or a competitor’s share price than the top 10 tips of marketing automation i.e. think strategy not execution.
These people might also go to different events, read different blogs and be inspired by business leaders than you would normally associate with, so your new business strategy needs to reflect this. For example, change from targeting trade press to the likes of The Guardian, be at events hosted by The Economist; be published in The FT. This is where your audience is, so this is where you need to be. And to get in those publications, your content needs to change and you need relationships with those publications.
It’s not impossible to create more strategic content like this, so don’t be scared by it. You can use proprietary or secondary research. There are journalists and freelance content writers who you can white label. All the information is readily available - you just need to collect it, read it and then form a point of view on it. But it can’t just stop there. Once you attract prospects, you need to change your swagger. Confidence is important (so you don’t freeze in front of directors with larger marketing spends) and there’s way you can update your website, credentials, proposals and pitch routine to reflect this confidence and win over the C Suite. So, as you can see, it’s not one little thing that’s going to win you those big accounts, it’s a complete mind shift and behaviour change for the whole agency. Think of it like maturing.
2. I’m an agency who have a great, distinct brand and some real momentum but it’s not converting into commercial success
Every so often we come across an agency who doesn’t need help with their brand positioning - an agency who truly acts a brand. This is a great situation to be in but a brand is worth nothing if you can’t capitalise on it and increase sales. As we’ve always said, the two must go hand-in-hand. Some agencies are developing some great content, surveys and running decent events but they aren’t seeing the ROI they should be.
What this normally comes down to is applying the boring stuff - process, organisation, spreadsheets etc. A lot of agencies put all their focus into the quality of the content or the speakers and then they forget the most important part of the process is the follow up! They also don’t maximise their opportunities using channels that are easily available to them, like PR and social media to amplify their activities.
One failure I’ve noticed is the fear of ‘sales’ - agencies don’t want to appear too ‘aggressive’ in the chase of a new prospect. This is bullshit and eventually must change. There are ways of doing this and I certainly believe in nurturing leads and not pushy sales tactics but there’s sitting back and letting opportunities slide and then there’s ‘pulling your finger out’ and making something happen. If you don’t, the campaign has got failure written all over it. Prospects who download/read content or attend events know that there is a ‘follow up’ coming - they’re not stupid. The problem is agencies think about this too late. You should be thinking about the follow up before the campaign even starts! Who’s going to follow up? What with? What does the sales funnel look like? etc. And when the time is right, don’t be afraid to sell. I like to think of it like “give, give, take”.
We always recommend using a CRM system, mainly Pipedrive, to keep you organised and on top of all your leads. Seriously, a decent CRM used correctly is the answer to build a short, medium and long term pipeline. The number of agencies I speak to who are just working off spreadsheets, their data’s a complete mess or relying on bumping into a recommender on the train. It’s madness! You need structure, diary management, reminders, tracking conversations/deals etc. This is the only way you can maintain contact and remember all the people you have met or spoken to. You should tag people, segment data to make comms personalised, review old lost deals... seriously the opportunities are endless if the data is there. But you only get out what you put in.
The sexy creative, branded comms will grab people’s attention but it’s the practical hard-core rigour in the background - the cogs behind the clock face - that will drive your new business machine and increase sales.
3. I’m an agency trying to bring our content plan together but everything seems a bit sporadic
One of the most satisfying parts of my job is going through a brand repositioning exercise and seeing how this manifests itself into a marketing and comms plan. It’s amazing when you have one core strategic/creative platform, the amount of ideas that can come from it. And the best part is, they are all linked and therefore reinforce your brand message consistently, at all times, across all channels.
I don’t know if agencies are getting lazy or shy about good ideas and taking risks but some of the stuff we come up with in our content calendar sessions with agencies, are amazing. And it’s simple creative stuff, that isn’t being done at the moment, by anyone! We also find that it links quite nicely to a new business strategy so nothing is done randomly or without thought about the target audience, agency brand messaging and the industry.
We normally break the year down into months and quarters, planning blogs, hero pieces of thought leadership, events etc. We plan when everything is going to happen taking into consideration what is happening in our industry as well as outside our industry. There has to remain some flexibility so that you can remain agile if an opportunity presents itself. We also think about our audience - what are their challenges? Where are they going to learn and be inspired? That’s where you need to be! Right message, right plan, right time. It’s basic - exactly what you would tell your clients.
Some content ideas are a little risky or sometimes we find the agency hasn’t had much experience in producing something like that before. But take a fucking risk! Once you’ve done it once, you’ll learn and then you’ll be an expert in it. An example of this was one of my clients who has started conducting in-depth brand interviews on camera. They were worried about their interview technique and if it would be effective etc. But there are always specialists or external content writers you can turn to for advice. You may even wish to pay them to do it for you but then you need to find the budget to do so, so it’s always better to up skill in house. Plus, some people like content that’s a bit rough around the edges - it shows more authenticity – so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
I challenge you to put yourself in your client’s shoes… what are they struggling with right now? What would be the dream piece of content they would want to consume, that could genuinely help them? Then produce it. If you focus on the content, the dodgy execution can be justified.
4. I’m an agency stuck in the 90's in desperate need of a new identity and approach to new business
We’ve all seen them. There are agency websites that you would sit in disbelief that they haven’t updated them in 20 years; and then you’ll be even more shocked that clients appoint them to build their websites! I can never understand this. Why would any brand want you to be their agency when your own website or comms are a load of shit!?
Some agencies are a bit disillusioned but it’s so refreshing to meet the ones that know they need a change but haven’t had time to get around to do anything about it. Many put it off because of internal politics, lack of resource or they’ve been trying to do it for months (even years) and not getting anywhere! My advice would be to get someone in to help - if not us, then someone! We rebrand agencies in a three-week process. That’s it.
We believe a rebrand shouldn’t be something done every 5 years - visually you might want to update the look and feel or possibly the language - but the brand essence should remain the same, forever. A brand comes from the heart, therefore it’s something that is true to the founders. Trying to come up with something new all the time is not only inauthentic but it would imply that the fundamental beliefs of a founder are able to change continuously. These foundations are a person’s value system built through their childhood and careers. You can try and hide behind something else like the latest fad, but it will be a lie and your employees, clients and prospects will see right through it. Or better still, call yourself a “full service award-winning agency” whilst I smash my laptop over my head at disbelief of your laziness.
My advice is to get someone in, external to your business, who you feel comfortable in opening up to. Get all the founders of that business around a table to talk about the reason they started the business in the first place and what stamp they are trying to put on the world. Interview your employees and people in and around your business that have worked with you or your competitors. Once you have a true 360 picture of your business, a red thread will start to appear. Something will ring true in all the founders and the people you have hired. It will be so glaringly obvious, that you’ll be frustrated you didn’t think of it yourself. It will answer questions as to why you made certain decisions throughout your entire life; and it will be so liberating that you’ll want to tell it to everyone you meet. This is your brand.
If you have an agency new business challenge, then don’t sit back and procrastinate. Don’t keep doing the same old thing wondering why you aren’t getting different results. Don’t lie to yourself and pretend you know everything. Sometimes it’s the small things that can make a huge difference to your business. And sometimes it’s the elephant in the room that you’ve been ignoring for years because you’re too scared to address it.
Get off your arse and make change happen. Be Brave.
If you want to discuss any of your own challenges or want us to write about our solutions, then please get in touch.